Chris Mautner, Author at Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
It seems like the stuff of legend: Wally Wood – the Wally Wood, of EC and MAD fame, fed up with being creatively and financially stifled by the oppressive corporate comics business model, discovers the then-nascent world of fanzines, and inspiration strikes. “Maybe I could create one of these fanzines for me and my friends,” Wood thinks. “We could publish any sort of work we wanted, with no editorial restrictions or code to worry about! Best of all, we’d own it!”
Bear in mind, this was 1966, a good two years or so before the first issue of Zap Comix set the still-budding world of underground comics on fire. The mere notion of comics as any sort of medium for self-expression at the time must have been something that drew wide-eyed stares. But while Wood was certainly no hippie, there’s little doubt he saw this as an opportunity to produce work that he and his friends really cared about.
And what a list of friends. Throughout its run, Witzend collected an impressive roster that included creators like Jim Sterenko, Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Reed Crandall, Art Spiegelman (some of his first published work), Don Martin (yes, that Don Martin), Alex Toth, P. Craig Russell, Mike Zeck and Joe Staton.
We’re a little more than halfway through the year, which makes it the perfect time to pause and separate the truly exemplary comics from the merely mediocre.
Below are six of my favorite comics of the year thus far. Many of them will likely make their way into my final “best of 2014″ list come December, but I reserve the right to completely change my mind between now and then.
In any case, let me know what comics you’ve enjoyed reading thus far (or how crazy I am for forgetting Graphic Novel X) in the comments section.
For many fans and historians, Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby was largely regarded as the best comic strip you never read. Or, if you knew where to look, the best comic you only read a few snatches of.
All that changed last year when Fantagraphics began collecting the strip in a series of handsome volumes, designed by Dan Clowes and edited by Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds and Philip Nel, author of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature.
The second volume just arrived in stores this week, which made it seem like the perfect opportunity to talk to Nel and Reynolds a bit about Barnaby, what makes it so swell, its legacy, and more. I want to thank them for their time and patience, especially considering this whole thing took place over the Internet.
Having detailed his love affair with Queen, delved into the secret lives of boy scouts and even produced the odd superhero comic, Mike Dawson has released his most ambitious book yet, the politically and socially charged Angie Bongiolatti.
Set only a few months after 9/11, the book centers around a group of twentysomethings, more or less fresh out of college, working at an aspiring dot-com in the Big Apple and trying to figure out what exactly they want to do with their lives. Like satellites, many of them seem to rotate to one degree or another around the titular character, an attractive young woman who is driven by her left-wing political beliefs and trying to ascertain how to adhere to them in the workaday world.
Far from being some sort of one-sided political screed however, Bongiolatti asks questions about the effectiveness of any political movement, no matter how noble, and how best to affect change in the world while still being able to maneuver through it effectively.
I talked with Dawson over email the last few weeks about the book, its themes, politics and the joys of working with a large cast of characters.
Angie Bongiolatti is set within a very specific place and time, New York immediately after 9/11. What made you decide to set your story during this period rather than, say, during the Iraq War or during the Bush/Gore election. Or later?
The Bush/Gore election was the last time in my life when I was completely and blissfully unaware of current events and had no opinion on what was happening. I had no television set at the time, the Internet wasn’t yet an all-consuming focal point of my life, and plus I was 25 years old, and just didn’t care about the world outside of my own social life.
The period after 9/11 was that short window in time where the rest of the world was more or less on America’s “side” when it came to their response. To be against the invasion of Afghanistan was a minority position to take. The invasion seemed legitimate. I remember there were some voices of dissent at the time – David Rees’ Get Your War On being this great voice screaming into the roaring winds of war. I loved that comic. It might have been the first webcomic I experienced in real time.
A weiner dog with butterfly-esque wings that’s a master mechanic. A space-faring Amazonian warrior who’s handy with a blade. A pig-faced, hard-living bounty hunter. Mad scientists with really odd-shaped glasses. These are just some of the characters and elements that make up Twelve Gems, Lane Milburn’s ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek sci-fi opera.
Drawing on classic adventure role-playing games, fantasy films and manga, Gems finds the first three aforementioned characters banding together at the request of a mysterious Dr. Z to find the titular gems for purposes unkown (at least initially). Along the way they come across all manner of strange creatures, hostile planets, old foes and metaphysical craziness. Milburn lets his imagination run rampant throughout the book, resulting in a fast-paced, crazed graphic novel full of scenes that could easily be blown up onto a black velvet poster. Plus it’s a lot of fun to boot.
I recently chatted with Milburn about the new book, its inception and his work with the Closed Caption Comics group.
“Is Noah Van Sciver the finest cartoonist of his generation?”
That’s the question I posed a few months ago on this very blog. Anyone who’s been following his work, whether via his one-man, self-published anthology Blammo, various minicomics like The Death of Elijah Lovejoy or his critically acclaimed graphic novel about Abraham Lincoln The Hypo would likely be asking something similar. While there is plenty of competition among Van Sciver’s peers for the “finest cartoonist” title, over the past few years he’s consistently made a case for wearing that crown by methodically building a body of work that was engaging, funny, featured sharply detailed characters and encompassed a variety of genres.
Now AdHouse has published Youth Is Wasted, a collection of short stories taken from Blammo, and various other anthologies. It’s a good introduction to Van Sciver’s world for newcomers, as well as a reminder to Hypo readers that he’s not some one-hit wonder.
In honor of the book’s release, I recently chatted with Van Sciver about the new book, as well as his new mini from Oily Comics, The Lizard Laughed.
Described in the press release as “Sex and the City but with adorable, ex-wrestler hairy gay men,” the series follows the adventures of Oaf, a former wrestler and multiple cat owner who falls for Eiffel, the lead singer of a black metal band called Ejaculoid. With five issues published so far (in addition to various minis) Wuvable Oaf has been compared to Love and Rockets and Scott Pilgrim.
The book, collecting Wuvable Oaf #0-4, will cost $29.99 and be available in March 2015.
Wanting to learn more about the collection and Luce’s work in general, I chatted with with the artist over a Google doc the other evening about Oaf, how he got into comics, his background as a painter, and the perils of being stereotyped.
Chris Mautner: Give me a little bit of your background. How old are you, where are you from and how did you first become interested in making comics?
Ed Luce: I’m 38, so I kind of came to comics a little later than most. I spent the better part of 12 years painting and drawing in a more fine arts context. I was also a college art professor during that time.
While I’m wary (to put it mildly) of throwing around trite phrases like “breakout artist” and “hot new cartoonist,” it sure seems like Sam Alden has a certain enthusiasm building around him in indie circles. Reading Wicked Chicken Queen, it’s not hard to see why. Whatever your initial reaction might be on glancing at that title, I can tell you I didn’t expect anything nearly as graceful, thoughtful and moving as this comic turned out to be.
Normally, when we talk about art – which, of course, is different from mere entertainment – we like to phrase it in rarefied terms. We tend to want our art to focus on the examination or discussion of high-minded ideals like truth, beauty, justice, wisdom, or the existence of a sentient spiritual being and subsequent afterlife. Stuff like that. We want our movies, music and books to be concerned with the ethereal world, and not so much with the physical one, especially unpleasant or embarrassing tasks like defecating or sexual congress. Being reminded that only a thin layer of skin holds in all those slimy organs, blood and other icky stuff keeps us from musing on what special snowflakes we all are (not to mention the horror of our own eventual death).
When we do acknowledge that stuff, it tends to be in the form of “low” comedy or horror films, where jokes about going to the bathroom, violence, lustful urges and other aspects of our daily physical lives that make us uncomfortable, can be digested more easily because we often exhibit it in as loud and gross a manner as possible.
But delving knee-deep into viscera and body fluids doesn’t ipso facto mean you have to forego subtlety, nuance or poetry. Take Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit series for example.
The recently resurrected Alternative Comics has announced its full list of comics for the spring and summer of this year. They include:
- The Big Feminist BUT, edited by Joan Reilly and Shannon O’Leary. An anthology featuring work by folks like Lauren Weinstein, Jeffrey Brown, Sarah Oleksyk, Gabrielle Bell, Justin Hall, Ron Rege Jr. and Vanessa Davis. (March)
- Sunbeam on the Astronaut, by Steven Cerio. A collection of Cerio’s psychedelic comics, art work and illustrations. (April; you can see a preview of the book here)
- (Mostly) Wordless, by Jed Alexander. An all-ages collection of short stories, told using as few words as possible (hence the title). (April)
- Ritual 3: Vile Decay, by Malachi Ward. A sci-fi story involving an old woman relating to her grandson how exactly everything went horribly wrong. (June)
- Magic Whistle #14, by Sam Henderson. Henderson returns to his long-running, one-man humor anthology. (June)
- Sugar Booger #2-3, by Kevin Scalzo. Scalzo’s dayglo all-ages series continues. For more on this comic, see my interview with Scalzo. (March and July)
- Unspoken, by Megan Kelso. A newly “remastered” version of Kelso’s 1990s-era zine collecting various short strips that haven’t been collected elsewhere. (August)
In addition, the company also plans to offer digital releases of Megan Kelso’s seminal Girlhero series (all six issues); Backwards Folding Mirror by Forming author Jesse Moynihan (three issues); Cat Suit by Steve Lafler; Subway Series and Queen’s Day by Leela Corman; The Vagabonds by Josh Neufield; and More Mundane by Noah Van Sciver.
You can read the full press release below.
The small press publisher Hic & Hoc has announced its publishing plans for the year. The upcoming line-up includes:
Mimi and the Wolves Act I by Alabaster. A new edition of Alabaster’s self-published about a young girl who goes off into some mysterious woods to find a cure for the disturbing dreams she’s been having. Due in the spring.
Irene Volume 4 edited by Dakota McFadzean, Andy Warner and d w. An anthology of work by new cartoonists, including Amy Lockhart, Emi Gennis, Jackie Roche and James Hindle. Due in the spring.
Scaffold: The Collected Edition by V A Graham & J A Eisenhower. A sprawling, experimental comic with elaborate map-like layouts involving a dystopian fantasy world. I read the first volume of this at Comic Arts Brooklyn, and I’m not even sure how to accurately describe it. Due in the summer.
Death, taxes and new comics. Those are just a few things we can expect in the New Year (not YOUR death necessarily, just death in general). Anyway, lots of comics will be published this year. Here are six I’m really looking forward to and that I think you should be excited about as well. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.
1. Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Random House). A bit of an obvious choice perhaps. Still, whether you loved Scott Pilgrim or hated it to tiny, tiny pieces, there’s little doubt that O’Malley’s big follow-up to his uber-successful and much ballyhooed series is going to draw a lot of attention from all corners of comics fandom. There’s a lot of people curious about this book, about which little is known other than it takes place in a restaurant. Count me among them.
2. Arsene Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics). Is Olivier Schrauwen one of the most amazing, inventive and original cartoonists to come along in decades? Well, duh. If you’ve read The Man Who Grew His Beard, My Boy or perhaps the initial chapter of this (I’m assuming) invented tale of the author’s grandfather, you know how creative and fearless he can be. This might well be the book I’m most looking forward to this year.
It happens every year: Despite the best efforts of authors, publishers and publicists, there are smart, funny and downright entertaining comics that fail to get their proper due. It’s a truth made more manifest every year as production and publishing costs are lowered and more and more people find ways of getting their work on print or online.
So once again I’ve put together a list of some books I thought could have used a bit more love, at least in terms of coverage if not also sales (though usually it’s both). These aren’t necessarily the best books of the past year – I’m not sure I’d swap any of them out for my own top 10 list – they’re just really good comics that didn’t seem to get enough attention. Let me know what you’d add to the list in the comments section below.
There’s been a wealth of children comics available recently, but I feel pretty safe in saying there hasn’t been anything quite like Kevin Scalzo‘s Sugar Booger. At least, I haven’t seen any comics involving a large, boisterous, bright blue bear with the uncanny ability to make delicious candy spew forth from his nose.
Although he’s been a part of the alternative comics scene for several decades now, Scalzo is jumping into serialized waters with the release of the first issue of this ongoing series (two more issues are planned for 2014) from Alternative Comics.
Combining a DayGlo pop sensibility with some Margaret Keane-like eyeballs, a dash of (PG-rated) underground grotesquery, and a dollop of Casper the Friendly Ghost for good measure, Sugar Booger is a rather tart confection that, while perhaps not for all tastes, will be appreciated by those who like a salty edge to their confectioneries.
I talked to Scalzo over email about the new comic, writing for kids, and his plans for the series.
There’s are a number of reasons why Dennis Eichhorn‘s Real Stuff was regarded as one of the better autobiographical comics of the 1990s. One thing, of course, was that he has lived an interesting and varied life – including a stint in jail – and has come across some unique, and at times bizarre, characters.
The other is that Eichhorn was a gifted raconteur, knowing exactly what beats of his story to hit and when, and the perfect point to deliver the punchline, even if it was retelling a funny thing someone said over drinks. Add to that the fact he collaborated with some of the most talented cartoonists in the industry at the time – Mary Fleener, Julie Doucet, Peter Bagge and Chester Brown, to name just a few – and tailored his stories to fit each artist’s unique strengths. I don’t know how the division of labor works with Eichhorn, whether he gives out detailed thumbnails or just a page of uninterrupted text, but he seems to understand the rhythm of comics exceedingly well.